AWN! 2017 welcomes women's Christian fiction author, Deb Raney, whose more than thirty books have resulted in multiple awards. Attendees to Deb's workshops will leave edified and inspired!
Penny: You have written more than thirty books and have won multiple awards. As an author, what’s left to do? What motivates Deb Raney to continue to write?
Deb: For so many years, I wrote to help put our kids through college. I’ve always loved to write and feel I’m gifted to write, but my first 20-plus books were written as much for financial reasons as they were because I had a message I wanted to share. I think, honestly, I was a little surprised that I still had such a passion for writing once the kids were all out of college and on their own. But I did and do, so I continue to write. Sometimes it’s very difficult. Sometime I dream about retirement. But the joy of “having written” and holding that first copy of a book in my hands is great enough that it keeps me going through the hard, hard first draft stage.
Penny: What subject matter would you like to touch upon in your writing that you haven’t already?
Deb: Most of my novels—women’s fiction for the most part—have dealt with tough family issues—abuse, adoption, infertility, incarceration, homelessness, Alzheimer’s disease—and while I’ll always have some sort of conflict and trauma fueling my plot, I’m also enjoying a chance to write stories that are a bit more light-hearted. I’m not a natural comedienne by any means, but I love when a scene turns out funny and I can make readers laugh. I’d like to do more of that!
Penny: You moved to Wichita, Kansas (population nearly 400,000) from a town with a population of 1,500. Which town inspired more characters for you?
Deb: We’ve only been in Wichita for four years now, and my already-contracted novels were set in a small fictional town near Cape Girardeau, so I’ve not written a story set in a larger city yet. What living in Wichita inspired is a more diverse cast of characters. We live in a wonderfully diverse neighborhood—Chinese, Vietnamese, African American, and many other ethnicities represented and living next door or across the street—and because of that, I’ve felt more confident to write (and even get into the point-of-view of) characters of different ethnicities, different socioeconomic groups, and even different faiths than my own. I think the experience of moving from the farm, to a small town, to the city has grown and stretched me in good ways.
Penny: Has your faith always influenced your writing, or did this develop over the years?
Deb: Yes, my Christian faith has always informed and been an integral part of the stories I write. I actually wrote both a secular and a Christian version of my first novel (the two versions were surprisingly similar), but ultimately, I realized that I could not write genuinely about the human experience if I couldn’t explore man’s search for faith. Most people have a faith journey, whether they ultimately accept or reject faith in God. I wanted the freedom to explore that very human journey, and I knew I would not be allowed to do that with some secular publishing houses.
Penny: Did you start out as an avid reader or writer? Take us back to little girl Deb.
Deb: Little Debbie ;) had bronchial pneumonia and asthma from childhood to puberty and the two things that triggered my respiratory issues were wheat and hay—not good things to be allergic to for a little Kansas farm girl. My mom turned my banishment to the indoors into a magical world of stories when she introduced me to the public library and its wealth of books at a very early age. My mom always said I read cereal boxes and newspaper headlines before I started school, and I was reading adult novels by the time I was 11 or 12. Books (the real thing, please!) have been a passion of mine ever since!
Penny: How do you handle writing advice?
Deb: I think every author gets “advice” in the form of reviews and the editing process. I learned very quickly that I could let bad reviews slay me—paralyze me!—or I could sift through them to find a nugget of truth and become a better writer for it. I’m one who feels guilty that my editors’ names are not on the book covers beside mine. I have such a deep respect for good editors. I could not do my job without them. But sometimes it hurts to get an honest evaluation of your work.
Penny: When conferees arrive at AWN! on conference day, each writer will be at a different stage of development. Some will be filled with hopes and dreams, while others might be discouraged and looking for reasons or ways to move forward. What’s your best advice for both?
Deb: I think my advice for both is the same: If you choose to be a writer and you understand what that entails, then don’t let anyone squash your dream! I know successful writers who got their first book published immediately, and I know successful writers who spent 20 years honing their craft and collecting rejections before they finally got a contract. But both arrived at the same end result: a published book. I’ve also known writers who, after years of frustration, decided that their gift of writing was perhaps only for the purpose of sharing a family history, writing persuasive letters to the editor, journaling, or writing poetry for their own edification. All paths are valid and valuable, and if you truly ARE a writer, you won’t be able to help yourself. Writers write!
Penny: Do you ever walk away from a particular piece of writing? If so, is this effective?
Deb: The absolutely best way to write well is to have the luxury of being able to put your work aside from time to time and come back to it with fresh eyes. That’s not always possible if you are a career writer with deadlines looming. But if possible, I try to build time into my schedule to let my work “simmer” so that I can return to it with fresh eyes. Usually, when I come back to a piece, I’m (pleasantly) surprised by the quality of my writing. Occasionally, I come back to find a work that is simply not ready for prime time. I have one completed, and one partially completed novel on my computer that will likely never see the light of day. Writing those stories was good practice for me, but there simply wasn’t enough there for a full, rich story. I do have a few manuscripts that I feel have promise, and I hope to come back to them someday between deadlines and see if there’s any hope for them.
Penny: How has your writing “matured?” Could a twenty-year-old Deb have written Home at Last, your most recent book?
Deb: My characters have naturally aged and mellowed along with me. Now that I’m an empty-nester, I find myself writing a bit older characters, and when I write younger ones, I call our 20- and 30-something kids to ask, “Does this sound like something you’d say?” or “How would you word this if you were talking to your boss, or your spouse, or fill-in-the-blank?” I’m not sure what I’ll do when my kids “age out!” ;) That said, I know some writers who, in their twenties, wrote mature characters that rang utterly true. And actually, my own first protagonists, written when I was in my thirties, were in their late forties with college-age children. I think one of the skills that makes a writer a writer is being able to put ourselves in another’s shoes with a great deal of accuracy. Of course, research becomes all the more important if you’re writing a character who is very different than you are.
Penny: Why would husbands want their wives to read books by Deb Raney? Can you provide a few "husband" quotes?
Deb: I find it interesting that you ask the question that way. I often hear from men who read my book because their wives handed it to them, hoping it would help them understand something the woman was going through personally, or in their marriage. That said, I do think husbands would feel they’d profited when their wives read my books because I love delving into marriage and family relationships in my novels. I write almost equally from the male and female point of view, and I’ve been told I’m quite perceptive when it comes to writing male characters. I hope that my writing helps wives understand their husbands better, and vice versa. (And I have my own husband to thank for that. I pick Ken’s brain almost daily about whether my male characters are ringing true or not. Of course, sometimes we women write men the way we WISH they were, rather than the way they actually are! ;) )
Here are a couple of quotes from male reader friends who happen to be fellow authors (and I couldn’t say whether they read my books at their wives’ behest or not).
Deb’s writing is heart-touching, authentic, and credible, with characters you care about, who live and breathe inside you.~best-selling author, Randy Alcorn
Deborah Raney’s writing is always full of warmth and hope.~award-winning author and Writers Digest contributor James Scott Bell
And from Edward Arrington, who reads my books with his wife:
The author speaks softly but the message is huge. In my opinion, more stories like this can . . . [result] in better actions and relationships between people with all kinds of differences. Instead of bludgeoning the reader with harmful words, Deborah Raney gently shows the way.